Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda—Botanical Gardens
Our Uganda tour begins in Entebbe, where you're met at the airport and transferred to the Protea Hotel Entebbe. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Established in 1902, the gardens' fine collection of plants spans the country's tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones. The gardens are also home to many different bird species, offering an excellent introduction to Uganda’s diverse birdlife. We commonly spot vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys here, too. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening.
Days 2 & 3: Kibale National Park—Chimpanzee Trekking
The drive to Kibale Forest traverses Uganda's verdant highlands, where fertile volcanic soil supports a tapestry of tea, coffee and banana plantations. We arrive in time for refreshments around the pool and to watch the sun dip behind the Rwenzori Mountains. The following morning, a “swamp walk” through a wetland sanctuary reveals more than 100 species of birds. After lunch, we meet our local trackers to begin our first chimpanzee trek in Kibale National Park. This equatorial rain forest reserve has one of the highest concentrations of primates in the world, including 1,300 chimpanzees. We may also see red colobus, black-and-white colobus, red tail, gray-cheeked mangabey and other monkeys. On our return, there's time to relax and enjoy the grand view from our boutique lodge perched on the rim of a crater lake.
Day 4: Kibale Forest / Queen Elizabeth National Park
After a second forest walk in search of chimpanzees, we drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park along the western Rift Valley to arrive at Mweya Lodge, situated atop a peninsula that juts into the Kazinga Channel. Every room overlooks the channel, which boasts the largest concentration of hippos in Uganda. Guests also enjoy magnificent views of Lake Edward, not to mention elephants and warthogs frequently seen grazing just outside the windows, plus an abundance of colorful local birds. Queen Elizabeth Park is a microcosm of East Africa's safari highlights, home to a great diversity of wildlife residing among its volcanic craters, grassy plains and tropical forest. More than 600 bird species—one of the highest concentrations of any park in Africa—and nearly 100 different mammal species are found in the park, including the Ugandan kob, an endemic antelope featured on the country's currency.
Days 5 & 6: Queen Elizabeth National Park
On a boat trip down the Kazinga Channel, we find profuse numbers of crocodiles and hippos, and baboons frequently entertain us from the banks. Elsewhere in the scenic park we'll see an array of classic African wildlife, possibly spotting lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and antelope. The volcanic Rwenzori range, also called the “Mountains of the Moon,” provides a dramatic backdrop with snowcapped heights rising over 16,000 feet. On the morning of Day 6, we travel overland via a wildlife drive into the southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth Park, where we overnight at Ishasha Wilderness Camp.
Day 7: Queen Elizabeth Park—Ishasha Sector / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Exploring the Ishasha region this morning, we look for Queen Elizabeth Park's famous tree-climbing lions—one of just two populations of lions that climb trees as part of their regular behavior (the other is found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania). Though no one knows for sure, some speculate that these lions seek respite from the heat by availing themselves of cool breezes that blow through the branches on high. Heading westward to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we watch the scenery gradually change from open savanna to mountain slopes covered in dense green rain forest. Time permitting, we'll visit a school in a nearby village, then settle in for three nights at Mahogany Springs Lodge, our luxury camp on the side of a misty mountain, which will serve as our gorilla-trekking base.
Days 8 & 9: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Two full days of gorilla trekking are included in Bwindi. We rise early each morning in anticipation of a peerless experience: the chance to look into the face of a wild gorilla. The trail through the primeval rain forest can be challenging, sometimes slick and steep, but full of rewards. We are hiking into the jungle that early explorers called the “Impenetrable Forest,” and the name feels apt. Bwindi is home to nearly half the world’s mountain gorillas—about 400—a population that is under severe threat. Three family groups are habituated to human contact, and we hope to reach one of them by midday. Tracking them to their last known location, our guide looks for signs of their presence: broken vegetation revealing a night nest, stripped bark indicating feeding, dung. Our anticipation mounts as we climb over vines and foliage to approach the group. Our guide signals for silence, then proclaims our intentions with amiable grunts. We may see a range of ages among the individual gorillas: youngsters playing in the trees, mothers carrying babies and the mighty silverback, patriarch of the troop. No wildlife encounter can surpass the thrill of meeting these magnificent primates, so much like us, in their own habitat.
Yet the significance of our visit goes beyond our own personal experience: our presence here among the gorillas is crucial for their survival. Responsible tourism has been integral to sustaining these critically endangered animals, and the dollars we have infused into the local community helps support their protection through economic sustenance of the people who live in proximity to them. We go home not just with incomparable memories and photos, but as ambassadors for the gorillas' welfare, committed to ensuring their future. If time permits, we’ll visit Conservation Coffee, a local co-op of farmers who grow, process and roast their beans to sell them at a premium that benefits gorilla conservation. We may have a chance to walk through the coffee fields, pick some beans and see firsthand how this sustainable community enterprise unfolds.
Day 10: Entebbe / Depart
Our Uganda safari comes to a close today with a flight back to Entebbe, avoiding a long return drive. A day room is provided on arrival, to relax and refresh for those preparing to depart. We share a farewell meal before transferring to the airport for departing flights.